Alice K. Boatwright - Twists and Turns, Great Pacing and Characters

Alice K. Boatwright - Twists and Turns, Great Pacing and Characters

Alice K. Boatwright is the author of the Ellie Kent mysteries, which debuted with Under an English Heaven, winner of the 2016 Mystery and Mayhem Grand Prize for Best Mystery. The series continues with What Child Is This? and In the Life Ever After. Alice has also published other fiction, including Collateral Damage, three linked novellas about the Vietnam War era; Sea, Sky, Islands, a chapbook of stories set in Washington’s San Juan Islands; and Mrs. Potts Finds Thanksgiving, a holiday parable for ages 8 to 108 that focuses on generosity and community connection. Her career writing about the arts, education, and public health took her around the world, including a decade based in Oxfordshire and Paris. She now lives in the Pacific Northwest. 

Under an English Heaven was first published in May 2014 by Cozy Cat Press and continues to sell well. In December 2023, Alice published new editions of Under an English Heaven and What Child Is This?, the first two books in the Ellie Kent mystery series under her own imprint, Firefly Ink Books. The new editions include special features including YouTube playlists of the music and traditional activities described in the books. The third in the series, In the Life Ever After, was published by Firefly Ink Books in January 2024. As our Author of the Day, Alice tells us all about Under an English Heaven.

Please give us a short introduction to Under an English Heaven and the Ellie Kent mysteries.

This mystery series follows American Ellie Kent as she navigates her first year of marriage and life in an English village. In Under an English Heaven, Ellie has recently left behind her college teaching job and life in San Francisco; married Graham Kent, an attractive, widowed vicar; and moved to his village near Oxford. At first, she thinks her biggest challenge will be to gain acceptance from the villagers as a foreigner and "incomer." But, when she discovers a dead man in the churchyard, her outsider status leads to her becoming the prime suspect in his murder. To prove her innocence, Ellie finds she must draw on her new role as the vicar’s wife and her academic research skills to unravel a web of decades-old secrets before more people die—and her new life unravels too.

Your protagonist, Ellie Kent, is a skeptic who finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery. What inspired you to create this character, and how does her skepticism shape her approach to solving crimes?

I’ve always loved traditional English mysteries and one of my favorite authors is Dorothy L. Sayers, who created the mystery-author-accused-of-murder, Harriet Vane. If Ellie owes her roots to anyone besides myself, it is Harriet, who staunchly resists Lord Peter Wimsey’s overtures of love and help and later becomes a sleuth herself. At the time I began writing my book, I was living in an English village and very conscious of being a foreigner there. I wanted to write about that and also create a character unlike the stereotypical brash, loud American found so often in fiction. As far as her skepticism goes, Ellie grew up in Berkeley, California where “Question Authority” is the mantra of many! This means she doesn’t automatically accept any ideas or information—from the dogmas of the church to the protocols of a police investigation.

Under an English Heaven blends a variety of story elements in addition to the murder investigation. How do you balance them?

The mysteries I love are always about more than just whodunnit and in what attractive setting. So, in my books I try to create and solve a good puzzle, which is the chief responsibility for any mystery, but I also like to weave in other story strands that develop from book to book. These include Ellie’s adaptation from the US to the UK, from city to country, and from the American West to a place where the village church is 800-years-old. Her new marriage and adjustment to being a stepmother; the challenge of following in the footsteps of Graham’s first wife, and my own love of English folk culture, traditions, literature, history, music, and countryside are also ingredients. . . so, there is a lot to work with! Blending it together successfully takes care.

How does being the vicar’s new wife influence her interactions with the villagers and her role as a sleuth?

Being a vicar’s wife is challenging for Ellie, because she is young (in her mid-30s), a feminist, and not very religious. She has to prove herself in this new public role, while remaining true to herself. When she is thrust into the position of having to try to solve the murder she is accused of, she finds that being the vicar’s wife is very convenient. She can be politely nosy and has access to people and information, including secrets, that the police would be hard put to uncover. Going forward in the series, the reasons for her to become involved in mysteries vary, but her ability to solve them—and thereby aid in achieving justice and restoring order—proves to offset her “shortcomings” and make her a valued member of the parish and village.

Under an English Heaven has been praised for its engaging characters. How did you develop the cast of characters in the village, and what role do they play in shaping Ellie's experiences and motivations?

The development of the characters came out of a combination of plot-driven needs (I have to have some policemen. . . what do I want them to be like?) and the surprises that come out of the writing (for example, I didn’t know Miss Worthy’s relationship to Ramona Blaisdell-Scott right away). Overall, I built out the cast, keeping in mind the need to have a variety of ages, occupations, and personalities, with people who would be both antagonists and supporters of Ellie. It’s great fun to have my own village, and I love developing and varying people’s roles from book to book. I hope my villagers come across as interesting and human—capable of both growth and contradictions.

The novel received positive reviews for its pacing and plot twists. How do you approach crafting a mystery that keeps readers engaged and guessing until the end?

I always write my first draft very quickly, knowing who the villain and victim(s) are and the general when and why, but not the details of what actually happened or what false trails and alternate scenarios will divert attention from the truth. All this develops slowly, scene by scene, act by act. For me, writing is rewriting, and there are always surprises along the way that shape the final story.

Ellie Kent's personal journey over the course of her first year in Little Beecham is central to the stories. What aspects of her character arc did you find most compelling to explore, and how does she evolve?

Ellie evolves and adapts on a variety of levels. . . from overcoming linguistic differences between British English and American English and finding her own way to play her public role to exploring a new marriage and seeing how her teaching and other skills can be put to use helping others. As a strictly amateur sleuth, she does not define herself with that role. In each book, she is drawn into the mystery in a different way.

Your career has taken you around the world, including living in England and France. How have your experiences abroad influenced your writing?

Moving from coast to coast; traveling in Europe, Asia, and Africa for work; and living abroad have all definitely shaped my world view—which in turn influences my writing. My first book was set in the US and Vietnam, and I am working on a novel set in France, as well as my Ellie Kent books and other projects.

Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?

I like to draw, make collages, and sing by myself. It’s long ago now, but used to attend a camp where I learned Morris, sword, and English country dancing. . . all of which I loved and enjoy writing about. From that time, I also know a formidable number of folk songs, and, if we meet, I’d be happy to sing you “The Rattlin’ Bog.”


Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?

My only habit is that I never give up on a story I love. . . either in terms of finishing it or in terms of finding a publisher for it. I am a very committed, persistent writer, but also very slow. As a result, I avoid writing fiction under a deadline.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, I am working on the first draft of the fourth Ellie Kent mystery and doing final editing on a collection of my short stories, which will be published later this year. The French novel is in my back pocket at the moment.

Alice desk

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

My website at has more information about me and my work. To receive What’s Up?, my occasional newsletter, click here:

Under an English Heaven
Alice K. Boatwright

In this winner of the Mystery & Mayhem Grand Prize, Ellie Kent moves to an English village with her new husband, Graham. At first, she fears the villagers will only see her as the young American who snared their attractive vicar. But this is nothing compared to the challenge she faces when she becomes a murder suspect. To prove her innocence, she must solve a literary mystery & secret love story.